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KING KONG
The 8th Wonder Of The World


Director
Peter Jackson
Starring
Naomi Watts
Jack Black
Adrien Brody
Andy Serkis

I'm a big fan of the original King Kong, I love it so much it's in my Top 10 and although Peter Jackson's version of Kong is phenomenal, it is an altogether different film. Cooper's 1933 classic was a monster story about a girl taken captive by a beast who wished to posses her like some sort of human plaything. Jackson's version starts with a nod towards the original by stating that the corpses of the previous 'offerings' were torn limb-from-limb but then moves onto something with more meaning and substance: love. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean the whole 'let's get married and have kids love' but the protective love that a pet has for its master and vice versa. It's this new element that makes Jackson's version truly unique; whereas Cooper's Kong loved Darrow [Fay Wray], she was merely a damsel in distress that showed the first mate, Driscoll [Bruce Cabot], how to love (then there was the '76 version, in which Kong turned from animal to pervert, insisting on exposing Jessica Lange's chest - maybe he just likes naked girls); she was never supposed to return the monkey's love. Seeing as the film was based, set and shot in the early 30's certain sexisms shine through (something Cooper saw a lot in the film's producer, Ernest B. Schoedsack), ie. Darrow's key roles: be poor, get found, get employed, get in the way, get captured, scream a lot, get saved, fall in love with lead male, get re-captured, scream some more, wait for the big ape to die. Being a modern film I doubt we could get away with that sort of thing now, although there are some in-jokes in the film, hinting towards the now dated elements of the original.

Although Watts delivers her role with more intensity than her predecessors it was thought that Black and Brody would fail to impress and I would like to be one of the first to lay these misgivings to rest. It's not that Brody is wrong for the part, not at all, it's simply that by the end of the film we're left feeling that Driscoll (Brody's character) isn't right for Anne. The moment those bi-planes appear, you know the ending and don't want Kong to go, you want to see them happily together. The same theory applies to Black's Carl Denham, he's not a poor actor for the role, he is just portraying a different type of Denham. Robert Armstrong's Denham is a man of great vision who studio executives have a detest for, due to his excessive spending and passion for risks. Black's obsessive cradling of the camera reels leaves the audience with a nostalgic feeling of a classic director in the style of Orson Welles - a man with an almost unscrupulous nature, with his interests solely invested in his cinematic project - this is evident in the film when Denham realises the studio is going to pull the budget for his film and takes it upon himself to bribe the Captain of the 'Venture' [Thomas Kretschmann] to leave port that very night to avoid his arrest.

The film opens to an hour long introduction of characters and setting. With this seemingly slow start, it's clear that Jackson has decided to take his own pace for this feature; in Cooper's '33 original it was roughly 40 minutes before Kong's debut, Jackson takes 50 minutes just to reach Skull Island and yet, due to the writing, this all works so incredibly well that you dismiss any concerns you have as to how long the film will take to finally get into full swing. The Island's natives are vicious and barbaric and put the 1933 natives to shame (although there is an homage to the original Skull Islanders towards the end of the film), their attack on the film crew is both savage and bloody, sending teeth-sucking winces throughout the cinema. Once Darrow has been offered to and taken by Kong the action begins to take off and doesn't really stop until the climactic finale.

The jungles and undergrowth look beautiful and the characters blend in seamlessly and then we see our first dinosaurs - a herd of Brontosaurus' (being a kid who dreamt of growing up to be a palaeontologist I would just like to point out that there is no such creature as 'Brontosaurus' but considering it's supposedly 1933 we can allow for some evolutionary changes and lets face it if you're willing to admit they're alive in the first place, you have no place doubting exactly what they are) - and that's where the problems begin. It would appear WETA Workshops have gotten themselves in a tangle, having successfully produced everything Jackson wanted for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy they have been presented with another mammoth task and unfortunately come up with less-than-spectacular results once or twice. However, this is pure knit-picking as Kong himself is not only the star and highlight of the show but also the most amazing piece of human-mime/CGI I have ever seen in cinema.

Kong is not only a beast of immense size and complexity but one that finally resembles a silver-back gorilla. So impressive are the results that for brief moments during the film you actually find yourself believing in the existence of such a beast and wondering how WETA managed to pull it all off. Oddly enough the truly breath-taking moments of the film aren't the mind blowing monkey/dino action scenes or the heroic acts of the cast but the quiet tenderness shared between Darrow & Kong. Three particular scenes come to mind; the first is on Skull Island as the Sun is setting, Darrow sits neatly in the giant ape's hand as they look out over the island, the sky ablaze with colour; it's at this moment that you realise Kong is the last of his kind and that he is truly alone. The second is in Central Park, New York; the two leads  (yes, Kong is a lead character, Serkis deserves an Oscar) slip and slide about gracefully on a beautifully lit frozen lake. Finally, Kong ascends the Empire State Building to meet his cinematic fate. As he reaches the top, sitting watching the sunrise, Kong remembers the similar moment in his lair and gently beats his chest - mimicking Darrow's exclamation as to the beauty of the sky. You can just hear the crowd getting weepy - these individuals are more than likely bawling by the time the credit sequence rolls.

Jackson's Kong is beautiful - you can read into that however you like and you'll probably be right. The ape is beautiful, the way he looks, moves, breathes, feels, it all amounts to this creature that's so blatantly misunderstood. The characters interact beautifully, the way they grow, live and learn. The set locations sparkle and shine leaving you dazzled at the New York of days gone by (even if it's not as historically accurate as it could be - namely towards the end). I would say a lot of people are going to be put off by the length of this movie and the fact that it's a King Kong remake but most open minded movie-goers will be able to find something to like. Possibly one of the most touching (mainstream blockbuster) films of the year, this is sure to sweep the Oscars and the Christmas box office - it will be interesting to see who comes out on top: King Kong, Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire or  The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (my money's on Kong).

Release Date:
15th December 2005

The Scene To Look Out For:
Anne is finally set down by Kong, having been dragged through the jungle by her captor, and in fear she begins her Vaudeville routine. This not only entertains the big ape but is the first thing that signals to him that this girl is different, it's possibly the moment he falls for her. Of course, Watts is exceptional, acting with next-to-nothing in front of her.

Notable Characters:
KONG! I'm not saying anything more on that.

Highlighted Quote:
"Actors! They travel the world and all they see is a mirror"

In A Few Words:
BIG MONKEY LOVE!!

Total Score:
9/10


Matthew Stogdon